India has been on my bucket list for a long time. So finding myself between jobs, I visited Rajasthan with my yoga class in February. I hadn’t done enough homework to prepare myself for life on the other side of the planet. And though I’ve been a creativity consultant and teacher for two decades, well adept at the change required to acclimate quickly to any new situation, stepping outside Delhi airport into the throngs of competing drivers and porters kicked up a defensiveness in me that lasted the duration of the two week tour. The lessons available to me at each stop in Varanasi, Rishikesh, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and finally the ashram in Panchla Siddha just north of Jodhpur manifested slowly, usually on an overnight train, or day trips by bus.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.’ The extreme contradictions in India’s culture have confounded many visitors from the west. Everyone I witnessed seemed so poor, yet so happy. More than 50% of villagers are illiterate, but communicate well and are very personable. No one seems to work much, but everything gets done. They say ‘yes, yes, yes’, but they really mean ‘probably not’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Their favorite directive is ‘dhire dhire’ (slowly!) Until you put them behind the wheel and then it’s all about speed. They waste NOTHING, they don’t like plastic, or any disposable consumable, yet there’s garbage everywhere! And finally, they claim to not have a national religion, or truly understand the western perspectives on spirituality, yet worship infuses every moment and activity in their day.
My tour group’s final stop was at Shri Jasnath Asan (ashram) in northwestern Rajasthan where we participated in a rich yoga program, complete with traditional meals, cultural events, nightly discourses with the ashram’s guru Shri Surajnath Siddh, and all the volunteers who work to make the ashram run smoothly. Some of our confusion about the culture was laid to rest here in the spiritual center of Rajasthan, where priests, saints, and sadhus have been making their pilgrimage for nearly 500 years. The air is lit with the vibrancy of their prayers, added to daily as contemporary pilgrims file it all day to visit the landmarks and temples of their family’s spiritual traditions. I fell in love with the community immediately, and am now a resident and yoga/English teacher.
In this monthly blog you’ll witness my transition from America to India, my development as a yoga teacher, explore various cultures, learn about spiritual and ritual traditions, and help me unravel some of the mysteries and contradictions that make India so successful in so many arenas.
And of course you are always welcome to come for a visit. We welcome 4-5 small groups from the west for yoga programs. Our next group is March 10, 2014. Write to me at [email protected] for more information.